Darlene's story from Connections: I survived personal evangelism

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--Sometimes I chuckle when I hear people speak of personal evangelism or when I hear them talking about the most "effective" way to reach people with the "truth."

My chuckle gives way to trepidation if the conversation turns to the idea of actually inviting someone to services for the Sabbath. I did that one time, and, after getting a minister's reaction to what I had done, I am ashamed to say that I was actually relieved when the invitee didn't show up.

Why would we even consider inviting anyone into this cloistered world we've created for ourselves? For an uninitiated newcomer it would be like walking into a theatrical play during the third act. Having no clue as to what transpired on the stage before his entrance into the playhouse, his mind would constantly be searching for any type of hint to help him understand the plot.

Taking it personally

As far back as I can remember, in some degree religion has played a part in my life: sometimes a good part, sometimes a bad part. My first encounter with a formal religion didn't come via some supernatural "call" from out of nowhere. There was no vision that appeared before me with beckoning finger that bade "Come, my child." My first introduction to a system of theological beliefs came via Father O'Quinn. (He was what you might consider the regional pastor of our parish.)

Father O'Quinn knew at my young age he had little chance of convincing me I'd have more fun at catechism than riding my bike. He entered the scene one day by showing up at our house just about the time my daddy got home from work. They talked a little and drank a little, and the next thing I knew every Thursday afternoon after school my sister and I were occupying a pew at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. We were there to learn the fundamental doctrines of Catholicism.

I never understood what transpired between the two fathers that day, but it must have been some sort of trade-off. (I won't go. But, here, take my two daughters.)

Father O'Quinn was the first individual I ever came into contact with who practiced personal evangelism. We didn't get an invitation; we got a draft notice. Get them while they're young, and you'll have a lifelong convert, or so he thought.

Pagan SEP

From that initial introduction evolved summer catechism (which I actually almost enjoyed). We memorized prayers, learned the rosary and drank chocolate milk. It was like a pagan SEP, only without sports and peanut butter.

For the first two weeks of summer vacation, every morning a school bus came by our house and transported us to downtown Pascagoula, Miss., where it deposited us at Our Lady of Victories High School. As with most people, there are memories in my past that every now and then are evoked by some sort of association with a smell, touch or sound. Sometimes I can still remember the feel of the cool breeze that floated through the halls of that school; the smell of saltwater drifting in from off the ocean; and the sound of nuns' heels clicking on the hardwood floor. I also remember being afraid of what might happen to me if I stepped out of line. This indoctrination would later come in handy for other religious encounters.

At the end of two weeks we were rewarded for our hard work with a picnic and day at the beach park. We were no longer just heathens; we were officially pagans.

Act 2

A few years later Act 2 opened to a more boisterous and raucous crowd. Because of certain family situations beyond anyone's control, I found myself selected once again for a role I hadn't auditioned for, only this time it was with the Radio Church of God.

As you can probably imagine, my brain circuits were overloaded trying to understand why church suddenly became so loud. Why are these men yelling at us? Church is supposed to be quiet, a time for reflection and prayer.

After services, and at every social occasion, people stood around bug-eyed and talking loudly about the Great Tribulation and the Lake of Fire. The sisters had taught me about hell, but it was nothing compared with the horror of being overrun by Germans and toted off to a concentration camp to be tortured for three and one half years.

The foreboding was deafening, but I had no clue to help me unravel the plot I had stumbled into.

With a lot of coaching and a little improvisation, I caught up with the other players. I rehearsed until I could say my lines as well as anyone. I was no longer a pagan. I had the "truth," but I wasn't supposed to tell anyone else about it. Others had not yet received the call to audition. They would be confused and unable to learn the part with such a short time left. Their name was not meant to be in the program at this time.

Return of the Playwright

To tell or not to tell: That was the question. As it turned out, it really wasn't a question for me at all at that time. I wasn't about to drag other people into what I had stumbled onto. What would they think when they entered the church hall and were asked to leave because their hair was too long--or because it was too short? Or what if they were gawked at because of the military uniform they were wearing? Personal evangelism didn't play a part in the second act.

Today is much the same. Not much has changed, although the scene has shifted and Act 3 is well underway. While some of the actors are still faithfully following the "director's" instructions (though he's long gone), others profess to having seen the wisdom of trying to follow the original Playwright's script just a little more closely.

If, in a moment of fearlessness, you ever do decide to invite someone to services, just remember he most likely won't have a clue about the importance of understanding how the Hillel calendar came into existence. "Equal to serve" to them refers to husbands helping with the dishes, and government issues originate in Washington.

Personal evangelism is just that: personal. Although you may prefer handing out booklets that state your doctrinal beliefs, or conducting public seminars, I've found picnics and chocolate milk always work best for me.

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